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What are the causal links between food type and body composition?

Answered on August 19, 2014
Created November 13, 2012 at 8:08 AM

Without meaning to be disingenuous, there seems to be a lot of very strangely shaped people around, much more than thirty years ago when I was a child. For example, I saw a young woman the other day (ordering her soy-latte with artificial sweetener!) who was very slim but had the most unfortunately shaped calves and ankles -- the definitive "cankle". Many years ago when someone was considered fat they were of the "Friar Tuck" or "Billy Bunter" mould, i.e. rotund, but not strangely shaped.

This has got me thinking that there must be some causal link between the type of food one consumes and the resulting body shape and composition. My suspicion is that foods such as refined fast-growth wheats, HFCS and soya are prime candidates for not only putting on the pounds but also distorting the body as it tries to cope with the onslaught of unhealthy compounds.

What are the likely causal links, is there any sound research on what different food types can do to the body's composition? Can we derive advice about what foods to avoid over and above their weight gaining properties?

(Please note that this is not an invitation to bag or disrespect anyone of a not perfect body shape; I'll happy delete my question if we end up going down that route.)

A08b210e4da7e69cd792bddc1f4aae4b

(1031)

on November 23, 2012
at 07:11 AM

@Travis, if you had entered that as an answer rather than a comment I would have marked it as the best answer!

61f9349ad28e3c42d1cec58ba4825a7d

(10480)

on November 16, 2012
at 04:40 PM

@CD - Oh, I see. You're just rejoicing about the fad. ;) I think it probably does vary.

A08b210e4da7e69cd792bddc1f4aae4b

(1031)

on November 16, 2012
at 01:48 AM

I hear ya, plastic food in plastic packaging, yikes! It looks like the majority of modern society are overfed and undernourished; the generational impact is bad and only going to get worse.

Medium avatar

(39831)

on November 14, 2012
at 09:27 PM

Deposition pattern is heavily influenced by hormones. There is definitely a higher likelihood of hormonal derangement these days than in the past due to various endocrine disruptors, nutrient deficiencies, poor sleep patterns etc. An android deposition pattern on a woman is not simply her being fat, it's her being fat and also having an endocrine imbalance.

A08b210e4da7e69cd792bddc1f4aae4b

(1031)

on November 14, 2012
at 09:35 AM

Interesting that there doesn't seem to any scientific evidence regarding how fat might be stored -- although absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence. It looks like the main drivers of body composition are fat storage, water retention and inflammation. At least a Paleo template addresses all of these and provides a more effective approach than a HCLF calorie restricted diet. It does strike me that there are very many people following CW advice to the letter and wondering why they cannot achieve the body shape they desire.

3ce6a0d24be025e2f2af534545bdd1d7

(26217)

on November 14, 2012
at 12:29 AM

@Luckie -- honestly I have no clue -- my wife buys all my clothes :). As far as I can tell there are fewer women wearing long skirts, but maybe that's a fad vs social acceptance.

61f9349ad28e3c42d1cec58ba4825a7d

(10480)

on November 13, 2012
at 10:37 PM

Isn't it still socially acceptable to wear longer skirts? Maybe this varies by age/location?

3846a3b61bc9051e4baebdef62e58c52

(18635)

on November 13, 2012
at 04:57 PM

Forget Marcia...how bout that Daisy Duke! lol. I see the points though.

3846a3b61bc9051e4baebdef62e58c52

(18635)

on November 13, 2012
at 04:56 PM

Ya, as to the cankle thing I agree. There has to be some genetic predisposition in terms of where it is stored. I was just generalizing the question a bit I suppose :).

3846a3b61bc9051e4baebdef62e58c52

(18635)

on November 13, 2012
at 04:55 PM

Ya, as to the "cankle" I think your correct. There ha

3ce6a0d24be025e2f2af534545bdd1d7

(26217)

on November 13, 2012
at 04:29 PM

Luckie, it's not that people didn't wear shorter skirts --- It's that it was socially acceptable to wear longer skirts. So someone who wanted to hide their cankles could do so without looking "out-dated"

61f9349ad28e3c42d1cec58ba4825a7d

(10480)

on November 13, 2012
at 04:11 PM

I agree with your answer in general but the statement about fashion 30 years ago is a little off. Remember Marcia Brady's skirts?

3ce6a0d24be025e2f2af534545bdd1d7

(26217)

on November 13, 2012
at 01:31 PM

JayJay, I have struggled with that as well. Certainly reading Wheat Belly has given me some pause. The OPs specific case is a thin girl with cankles.

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5 Answers

3
Ef32d6cc543a74319464e2100e5a9ffd

on November 15, 2012
at 11:26 AM

I have noticed this too, but mainly when I step outside of my normal world: I teach at an expensive private university, I live in a small town with very highly educated, health-conscious residents, and I shop mainly at co-ops and (by occasional necessity) Whole Foods. Everyone here does yoga, Pilates, eats their local organic veggies, belongs to meat CSAs or is vegetarian (which even though we don't think is optimal, at least they tend to not eat processed junk), runs, bikes and hikes.

But when I drive south and go to a big box store, or stop in the much poorer town to the west, I see people who look deformed in a way that I don't remember when I was a kid. I don't just mean their bodies, but also their faces. I know what a strong correlation there is between income/education and poor diet. Maybe now the choices for someone with less money are so overwhelmingly just crappy food, that combined with little nutritional knowledge or will, they consistently choose packaged junk. Since we ultimately are the product of our habits and in fact, of our parents' habits and theirs before them, it makes sense that this might happen. Especially, as I think Dr. Cate Shanahan (Deep Nutrition) says, we are born with whatever genetic robustness our parents had as a starting point. In the 1950's even if people were poor, maybe they were more likely to be healthy because they still bought real food and perhaps even grew it themselves. So their children's health wasn't compromised at birth. The farther we get from that generation-wise, the more messed up a person is likely to be. I am totally paraphrasing here, but it was a human example of Pottinger's cats.

I don't know if anyone has read Barbara Ehrenreich's "Nickled and Dimed," but it explains very clearly why someone trying to get by on minimum wage would not have the time or ability to cook real food. They are most likely working two jobs, hence have little time, and may live somewhere with no kitchen, or not ever have the money all at once to invest in pots and pans, etc...And perhaps most importantly, they might not have the example from their parents of feeding themselves real food. Given how much one's diet effects one's mind, this is just incredibly sad.

I know that the OP is not just talking about poverty/education and I will say that some portion of my wealthy students seem to get fatter and fatter each year too, though they do not look deformed which could be because they are getting fatter on better food. I think there is a cultural laziness that has crept in as well that just makes things worse. Then there are people like us who actively care deeply, and sometimes fanatically, about our well-being and will do what it takes to optimize it. Perhaps over time we will see a dramatic health polarization in the population.

3
3846a3b61bc9051e4baebdef62e58c52

(18635)

on November 13, 2012
at 01:25 PM

I tend to agree, but I think its a function of how overweight people are. Before people were just overweight. Now we are talking obesity. I know a lot of supposed research states there isn't much we can do as to site storage, but I just can't bring myself to agree with it. If certain fat (abdominal) storage has a higher correlative value with disease then I have to come to the conclusion that this sort of storage is at least to some degree dependent on lifestyle factors.

3846a3b61bc9051e4baebdef62e58c52

(18635)

on November 13, 2012
at 04:55 PM

Ya, as to the "cankle" I think your correct. There ha

3846a3b61bc9051e4baebdef62e58c52

(18635)

on November 13, 2012
at 04:56 PM

Ya, as to the cankle thing I agree. There has to be some genetic predisposition in terms of where it is stored. I was just generalizing the question a bit I suppose :).

3ce6a0d24be025e2f2af534545bdd1d7

(26217)

on November 13, 2012
at 01:31 PM

JayJay, I have struggled with that as well. Certainly reading Wheat Belly has given me some pause. The OPs specific case is a thin girl with cankles.

2
47edf681280750c3712a3a56f2eae33b

on November 15, 2012
at 07:49 AM

I am always looking in people's carts or at their plates to see what they eat and how it affects their body composition. Not to disparage, but it doesn't look all that good most of the time.

A08b210e4da7e69cd792bddc1f4aae4b

(1031)

on November 16, 2012
at 01:48 AM

I hear ya, plastic food in plastic packaging, yikes! It looks like the majority of modern society are overfed and undernourished; the generational impact is bad and only going to get worse.

2
3ce6a0d24be025e2f2af534545bdd1d7

(26217)

on November 13, 2012
at 01:13 PM

Pretty much all of the research suggests that there is very little we can do to change where and how we store fat.

Some modern research has shown that certain macros will encourage visceral fat loss, but it's a fairly small enhancement.

First, we as a people are fatter than we were 30 years ago, that's indisputable. So simply the fact that we are fatter gives a higher likelihood that you would see someone who is fatter than they were 30 years ago.

Second, women wear yoga pants, skirts at or above the knee, etc as socially acceptable attire (and btw, thank you for that). 30 years ago, it was socially acceptable to wear ankle length skirts/dresses which would have covered the cankles.

I would suggest that modern dress is much more likely the reason you have experiences a higher rate (that and perhaps differing observations due to your age)

A08b210e4da7e69cd792bddc1f4aae4b

(1031)

on November 14, 2012
at 09:35 AM

Interesting that there doesn't seem to any scientific evidence regarding how fat might be stored -- although absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence. It looks like the main drivers of body composition are fat storage, water retention and inflammation. At least a Paleo template addresses all of these and provides a more effective approach than a HCLF calorie restricted diet. It does strike me that there are very many people following CW advice to the letter and wondering why they cannot achieve the body shape they desire.

61f9349ad28e3c42d1cec58ba4825a7d

(10480)

on November 13, 2012
at 04:11 PM

I agree with your answer in general but the statement about fashion 30 years ago is a little off. Remember Marcia Brady's skirts?

61f9349ad28e3c42d1cec58ba4825a7d

(10480)

on November 13, 2012
at 10:37 PM

Isn't it still socially acceptable to wear longer skirts? Maybe this varies by age/location?

3ce6a0d24be025e2f2af534545bdd1d7

(26217)

on November 14, 2012
at 12:29 AM

@Luckie -- honestly I have no clue -- my wife buys all my clothes :). As far as I can tell there are fewer women wearing long skirts, but maybe that's a fad vs social acceptance.

3846a3b61bc9051e4baebdef62e58c52

(18635)

on November 13, 2012
at 04:57 PM

Forget Marcia...how bout that Daisy Duke! lol. I see the points though.

3ce6a0d24be025e2f2af534545bdd1d7

(26217)

on November 13, 2012
at 04:29 PM

Luckie, it's not that people didn't wear shorter skirts --- It's that it was socially acceptable to wear longer skirts. So someone who wanted to hide their cankles could do so without looking "out-dated"

61f9349ad28e3c42d1cec58ba4825a7d

(10480)

on November 16, 2012
at 04:40 PM

@CD - Oh, I see. You're just rejoicing about the fad. ;) I think it probably does vary.

1
E565e11cf32b38ab1f45086c1e0205f7

(613)

on November 14, 2012
at 06:27 PM

I've wondered about the same thing myself. Perhaps it's because it's only been in recent years that there have been so many of these people to observe, but I see I lot of really strangely shaped overweight and obese people. Like women who could probably fit their thighs into my pants, but right at the waist and stomach they balloon outwards with an astonishing amount of fat.

Although we can't really change our programming about how we store fat by changing what we eat later in life, I think it's plausible that what we eat early in life could influence how we become programmed to store fat. So in that sense, eating a crappy diet as a child could predispose one to having an odd or undesirable body composition.

Cankles though, I think that's a phenomenon that's always existed. I've seen them in old photos, even on thin women.

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